“If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.” While President Biden’s statement on July 29, 2021 appears abundantly clear, the administration’s written direction issued on the same day paints a slightly more nuanced picture for federal contractors.
First, the “Agency Model Safety Principles” are instructions for how federal agencies should update their COVID-19 workplace safety plans. They are not legal mandates for private contractors. That said, they will eventually trickle down into the demands agencies make for contractors’ on-site employees. While the requirements are not unexpected, federal contractors should immediately start preparing for how they plan to communicate the requirements to their employees.
In general, the new safety plans will split government employees, on-site contractors, and visitors into two groups – (1) the fully vaccinated and (2) those not vaccinated or those who refuse to provide proof of vaccination. Unsurprisingly, things are much harder for the second group:
Those Federal employees and onsite contractors who are not fully vaccinated or decline to provide their vaccination status must wear a mask, physically distance, and comply with a weekly or twice-weekly screening testing requirement and are subject to Government-wide restrictions on official travel.
In contrast, those that have provided proof of their vaccinations are not subject to any of these requirements, unless they are working in a county considered “high or substantial transmission” by the CDC. If so, then masks may be required.
Communicating these requirements to an employee and implementing workplace vaccination policies can bring challenges. Employers should be aware that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that employers may mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for on-site employees, subject to civil rights and disability statutes. Similarly, the Department of Justice recently published an opinion stating public and private entities are not prohibited from requiring vaccinations, even if the vaccines have been approved only for emergency use.
If you have any questions about the new federal direction or returning employees to work in a COVID world, please contact either David Warner or Tyler Freiberger from our legal team or reach out via the link below.